thicker than water (originally published Sept. 4, 2010)

I spent much of the summer of 2010 following the Warped Tour in my car.  I kept a blog about it, certain entries of which I’m going to migrate over here.  This entry is from August 6th, after a Warped attendee at the Bonner Springs date died, presumably from heat-related complications.


In 2001, the day of Warped Tour I got up at 4am. A friend of mine was visiting from out of town and I had to get her to the airport for a 7am flight. I took her to the airport and then went straight to the Adams County Fairgrounds, a big open field where Warped was at the time. Because I’d just spent a week showing my friend around Denver, I didn’t have any money left for food or water. I think I had enough money for a lemonade around noon, and then I was on my own.

This was one of those years when there were so many bands I wanted to see I probably wouldn’t have stopped for water even if I had money. So maybe what happened would have happened anyway. If my schedule hadn’t been so packed (or if I hadn’t been a stupid 18-yr-old), I would have spent some time resting under a tree, and maybe that would’ve saved me, but probably not.

I went straight from the pit in front of the Bosstones stage to the Bosstones merch tent to wait in line to get stuff signed. The world was spinning a bit by that time, which I mentioned to the Bosstones (“Hey, how’s it going today?” “Uhh, the world’s going around…”), and Dennis Brockenborough gave me a bottle of water. I chugged it and went to lie down, waiting for the water to take effect, because by that time I couldn’t feel my hands or my feet, I couldn’t catch my breath, and my peripheral vision was gone.

I don’t know how long I lay there, or how bad I looked, wondering why I kept feeling worse and worse when I should have been feeling better (so I thought). At any rate, I felt somebody sit down beside me. “Hey, are you okay?”

“No. I don’t think so.” Truth be told, I was pretty near panicking. Okay, fine. I was panicking.

“I think there’s free water over a ways, want me to take you to it?” he asked. I could tell he was younger than me, and nice. He sounded concerned. He hauled me up, and held onto me when it was clear that if he let go, i would fall over. He brought me to the free hoses, and I doused myself and drank a bunch, and felt a little better. He introduced himself (Dan), and apparently introduced me to his friend Andy, which I don’t remember. At some point, we happened upon my friend Kristi, who I hadn’t known was coming to the Warped Tour. Dan left me with her and went his merry way (I actually saw Dan again, the next month, at a Less Than Jake show. He became one of my best friends).

Dan knew where the free hoses were, but Kristi and her boyfriend Eric knew where the first aid tent was, and when the world started spinning again, they took me there. I was so dehydrated (and sun-struck on top of it) that just drinking water wasn’t helping me. I spent a few hours lying on a lawn chair, hooked up to IV fluids, two bags full. My arms looked like I’d been clubbed by somebody for a solid week and a half. I missed Flogging Molly’s set along with a bunch of other bands. Because here’s the thing: there comes a point in the dehydration cycle where just drinking water doesn’t help you, or at least, doesn’t help you fast enough to get you out of the cycle on your own. I hear people talking like if you get dehydrated, you just get a bottle of water and sit under a tree. And maybe that works if you’re just mildly dehydrated, but if the world is spinning around–you need some help.

The following year, I was visiting a friend of mine in Florida and went to Warped with her. I don’t remember who we were watching on the main stage, probably Pennywise. We were standing well back from the pit, back by the sound booth. In the middle of a song, a girl came stumbling out of the mosh pit and almost literally collapsed in my arms–she would have crashed to the pavement, but I managed to grab her. She was seriously disoriented, and me and my friends spent a little time trying to get her to tell us if she’d done any drugs. We bought her a bottle of water, I tried to convince her to go to the medical tent (where they’d give her free water if nothing else), but she said she was fine and stumbled back into the pit. I didn’t see her again; I hope she ended up okay.

In 2006, Denver’s Warped was at the parking lot of Mile High Stadium. I was wandering around, right after doors opened, getting my bearings. I found a group of kids huddled around their friend, who was lying down in a little patch of grass, throwing up. I went up to one of his friends. “Is he okay?”

“Yeah, he just had too much to drink is all.”

“Look, I don’t mean to sound like a mommy, but you should probably take him to the first aid tent. They’ll give him fluids if he needs it. It’s really hot, and puking’s just going to dehydrate him.” I did not mention that if it was only 11:30am, and he was already sick, it did not bode well for the rest of his day.

“Will they call his parents? I don’t want to get him in trouble for underage drinking.”

“They’ll take care of him. I don’t think they’ll call his parents unless they have to take him to the hospital. If he’s puking, he’s already in trouble. They’ll patch him up and send him on his way, and he can enjoy the rest of the day. If he stays like this he’ll just feel sick all day.”

I saw the kid think this over, and he brought it up to the rest of the group of friends. I didn’t stick around to see if they would bring him to the first aid tent, although when I walked by the spot again fifteen minutes or so later, the kid had four EMTs bending over him, so either somebody more insistent than me walked by and called the EMTs themselves or one of the kid’s friends went to find somebody.

This is all a long way of saying that the heat on the Warped tour ain’t nothing to fuck with. Short supplies of water–whether because of financial or any other reason–isn’t a small issue either. I have no idea how many people the Warped first aid tent treats for dehydration at every stop, but if I saw three instances in four years, I’m guessing it’s one of the most common things they treat. High heat, high humidity, lots of sun, and expensive water is a bad combination. And is now, we know, a lethal one.

Granted, all we know is that the guy died, we don’t know how. The coroner hasn’t released any reports (and probably won’t for several weeks, this not being an episode of CSI). That the kid died from dehydration or heat-related issues is the most likely scenario, but it’s unconfirmed. He could have had an independent medical condition (epilepsy, diabetes, a dodgy heart) that complicated matters. He could have been on drugs, or been shitfaced. We don’t know. But even if his death had nothing to do with water, it’s already brought a spotlight to an issue that was, if the comments I’m seeing on various websites is any indication, bubbling pretty close to the surface.

I went to over twenty Warpeds this summer, and there were ways around the expensive water at every one of them. I brought in my empty Nalgene bottle most of the time and never had a problem with a security guard (and if a security guard at the gate tells you you can’t bring in water or a water bottle, even if it’s factory sealed, you need to complain and demand to see a manager and confirm that that is in fact the deal, and not just the security guard on autopilot or pulling a power trip). There’s a Slip ‘n Slide that travels with the tour that you can slide on (and should slide on) to cool off. If there’s not running water in the bathrooms, ask around from staff if there’s free water available anywhere. I would say there was at well over half the stops (usually in the form of hoses).  The Phoenix stop, which is clearly used to dealing with a high heat index, actually had a large firetruck that sprayed water on folks all day long.  Venues want to make a profit and don’t hesitate to gouge captive audiences, but it remains that having people dropping like flies from dehydration is bad for business (not to mention potentially negligent and criminal). They don’t want you to get sick any more than you want to get sick. If all else fails, if you really don’t have money for water and don’t want to drink from a sink or there’s not hoses, ask people for water. Ask security. Ask band members. I’ve filled up my water bottle from vendors whose barrels of ice were slowly becoming barrels of water. Don’t let lack of money or busy band schedules come between you and water (also, beer dehydrates you, don’t drink beer, it’s wicked expensive anyway). (Just my $0.02 note: I don’t believe that the venue was charging $10 for water, which would be both unheard of and insane. I don’t doubt they were charging $9 or $10 for beer, which may be where that rumor comes from. Nobody who was actually at the KC date seems to be able to confirm the $10 for water figure.)

Keep an eye out, in yourself and in others around you, for feeling dizzy or breathless or nauseous. There’s EMTs and a medical tent at every single stop, and I made use of them a couple of times when I really needed water and really couldn’t find any. If an EMT tells you that it’s not their job to help you unless you truly can’t stand up, be respectful but keep asking for water. 90% of the EMTs would rather give you water and send you on your way than have to spend an hour sticking you with IVs and having you camped out in their tent.

And I hope that, if folks see somebody in trouble–even if it’s someone they don’t know, even if it’s someone that’s older than them, and ESPECIALLY if it looks like that person doesn’t have anyone else helping them–that they’ll stop and check in with that person. Dan did it for me, and he saved my ass that day. Punks tend to look out for each other and help each other–it’s one of the things that makes mosh pits work, when folks make sure that everyone who falls down gets up. In a setting like Warped, sunny and hot and outdoors, making sure that people who are sick get help needs to be a given extension of that. People who are sick only get to the first aid tent if other people bring them there. Yeah, you need to take responsibility for yourself as an individual and make sure you’re keeping yourself healthy and not being a total idiot. If the cause of the death was dehydration, then everyone around the kid who watched him collapse but did nothing bears responsibility too. When you can’t catch your breath, and you can’t stand up without losing track of where your head is and falling over, and you can’t see because your circulation is going, you’re not going to find your way to the first aid tent on your own. Everyone watches and just waits for the people who are officially supposed to be handling problems like this. Genovese syndrome, people: look it up and resolve not to become party to it. We need to take care of each other, not just as punks, but as people. We aren’t going to survive this mess otherwise.

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